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Florida Retirees Make a Big Difference in Upcoming Election

by Helen Cox  |  October 24, 2014

Florida Retirees Make a Big Difference in Upcoming Election One of the retirees turning people out to the polls is Melba White, a former procurement specialist for Jackson Memorial Hospital who retired three years ago.

MIAMI -- With so much on the line in this year’s midterm elections – from retirement security to voting rights -- AFSCME retirees in Miami-Dade County made more than 100,000 calls to Floridians in recent weeks, encouraging them to vote on or before Nov. 4.

One of the retirees turning people out to the polls is Melba White, a former procurement specialist for Jackson Memorial Hospital who retired three years ago. Rather than just relax, White seized the opportunity to devote herself more fully to civic engagement and become active with AFSCME Retirees Subchapter 45.  

“I stay active in local politics and I'm participating in this election because we need big changes in Florida,” White said. “Our current governor is not for all people, he's for special interest groups and the rich. It’s been on his watch that so many working families have been hurt. I’m a grandmother and a great-grandmother, I care deeply about making our communities better for future generations.”

White is enjoying staying active in her retirement.

“Now I have the time to go to more meetings, play close attention to how decisions get made and talk with more voters about making smart decisions,” White said.

She has a clear mission for the next two weeks, as early voting is now under way in Florida and Election Day looms on Nov. 4: Get people out to vote.

“Sometimes all it takes is one genuine conversation that makes the difference in getting someone to the polls,” White said. “And that’s a really good feeling to know you’ve made a difference.”

Learn more about what inspirational retirees are doing across the country by visiting http://www.afscme.org/union/retirees.

Fighting Back in Ohio

by Michael Byrne  |  October 24, 2014

Fighting Back in Ohio OCSEA members Debbie Davis (left) and Emmagean Smith are urging voters to support candidates who stand for working families.

Mansfield, Ohio, a town of 47,000 between Cleveland and Columbus, is the epicenter of Ohio’s midterm election campaign, where the war on public service workers perhaps is felt most personally. Every public employee here has felt the attacks on public services and budget cutbacks during the past four years.

Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA) represents many of the workers there, from the corrections officers at the two local prisons to employees of the Department of Transportation, EPA and other state offices.

Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE) represents many of the school employees.

Council 8 also represents city workers. The Mansfield office is one of eight around Ohio where get-out-the-vote programs are in full swing.

In Mansfield, as elsewhere, the volunteers are driven to protect public services and their rights – thousands of jobs were lost and many more are threatened by cuts or privatization attempts.

“I worked at the Unemployment Department for 27 years, and they kept cutting and cutting,” said Joan Schonhardt, who retired three years ago and worries how she will make ends meet every day on a small pension and Social Security benefits that are diminished by Ohio regulations.

“They’ve been trying to privatize Ohio’s prison system for four years,” said Melvin Girtman, a corrections officer at the Mansfield Correctional Institution who was assembling folders of information for volunteers to distribute during their door-knocking efforts. “It’s food service, then it’s other services, they’re picking the prison system apart, really, selling it out to the highest bidder. And what they’re really after is to weaken the union, picking us off one section at a time.”

Girtman and Schonhardt were two of several volunteers who showed up on a gray October Wednesday to knock on doors and make phone calls on behalf of candidates willing to fight for working families. Many fear that Ohio will follow the mold of Michigan and Indiana right-to-work ruin.

“That’s what I fear the most,” said Emmagean Smith, another corrections officer at the Mansfield prison who signed up for the volunteer work. “I worry that right-to-work would mean a cut in our wages. It means I could lose my seniority. I’ve worked at ManCI for 21 years, and I don’t want to lose what I’ve worked so hard to earn.” 

Later that day, Smith door knocked with fellow Mansfield CO Debbie Davis and her daughter, an eighth-grader, at union members’ homes in nearby Mt. Vernon. Her daughter insisted on coming along, Davis said. “She knows how important this election is. It’s her future, you know.” 

So far, the AFSCME Ohio get-out-the-vote campaign made 350,000 phone calls to union members and knocked on 30,000 doors. That’s just the beginning, said OCSEA’s Jim Beverly, who runs the Mansfield office. “We’ve got nearly two weeks to go,” he said. “We’re not letting up.”

Two years ago, Ohio’s unions and supporters were able to gather 1.3 million signatures for a ballot initiative and rally overwhelming support to repeal a state law to eliminate collective bargaining for public workers, SB5. AFSCME activists wear buttons that say, “This Is the November We Remember.” They’re fighting back.

Missouri Home Care Workers Win Raise

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  October 23, 2014

Missouri Home Care Workers Win Raise The Missouri Home Care Union, an AFSCME/SEIU partnership, reached an agreement with the state that will raise hourly wages up to $10.15, guarantee premium pay on holidays, and make the home health care system more transparent and responsive.

After months of collecting signatures, rallying in cities across the state and meeting with local officials, Missouri home care providers and the people they care for were able to celebrate a big victory last week – a first contract!

The Missouri Home Care Union, an AFSCME/SEIU partnership, reached an agreement with the state that will raise hourly wages up to $10.15, guarantee premium pay on holidays, and make the home health care system more transparent and responsive.

Their hard work paid off big time for the home care workers, many of whom were making minimum wage or barely above it.  Their pay is among the lowest in the nation. It’s not enough to pay the bills, and it certainly doesn’t reflect the value of the work they do caring for seniors and people with disabilities.

That’s why Michael Richards of Moberly, along with his caregiver Karen Harlan, traveled to St. Louis last week to deliver more than 400 petition signatures to Gov. Jay Nixon.  Richards says he wouldn’t be able to leave the house without the help of Harlan, but the current system doesn’t value what she does.

“I got into the home health care system and it completely changed my life,” he says. “These workers are out working nine, 10, 11 hours a day and then they go home and live on food stamps at the poverty level.  People like them keep people like me alive and well and they deserve more than that.”

Sarah Auxier and her son Kyle, from St. James, also have been active in the union.  Kyle has muscular dystrophy, and Sarah works around the clock to care for him.  But she can’t support herself on the income she gets as a home care attendant, so Kyle has to hire someone else while Sarah works a second job. 

“His other attendant has four jobs and is barely making ends meet,” Auxier says. “It was so embarrassing to say to her, you have this huge responsibility, Kyle relies on you for everything, and you’re only worth $7.75 an hour.”

The contract is a big first step, and it will make life a little easier for Missourians like Richards and Auxier.  When home care workers and consumers work side by side to advocate for change, they can raise the standards for everybody. 

Leading the Way to Vote Early in Atlanta

by Helen Cox  |  October 23, 2014

Leading the Way to Vote Early in Atlanta Back in March, a Moral Monday rally at Georgia's state capitol drew attention to voting rights and the legislature's plans to slash early voting in municipal elections.

ATLANTA – AFSCME Local 1644 members who work for Atlanta Public Schools and the City of Atlanta are encouraging their co-workers to vote early this election season. Last week they joined local teachers in voting early at South DeKalb Mall to launch early voting across the state. 

Although every election is important, close U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races have caused increased interest in this midterm election.

“My co-workers and I are voting early because on Election Day we’re going to help other people get to the polls,” said Local 1644 member Tracey Thornhill. “There are some big races happening and we can’t let any excuses stand in our way.”

“We’ll be driving folks to the polls and helping them make educated decisions,” she said. “Just like every election, we all need to stand up for ourselves and all working families.”

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia offer early voting, increasing access to the democratic process. Click here to find out more about what options you have available in your state.

The benefits of early voting include greater participation by traditionally disenfranchised voters and reduced stress on the voting system on Election Day.

 

Trayvon Martin’s Mother Urges Florida Women to Go Vote

by Cynthia McCabe  |  October 22, 2014

Trayvon Martin’s Mother Urges Florida Women to Go Vote The mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton, encouraged women on a teletownhall Wednesday night to get out and vote.

With Election Day just two weeks away and early voting already under way, more than 14,000 Florida women came together for a teletown hall Wednesday night to talk about the importance of getting out to vote.

The mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton, encouraged women on the call to get out and vote. Traditionally, midterm elections see lower voter turnout than presidential elections. In 2010, only 41 percent of the electorate turned out to the polls.

“Our voices need to be heard,” Fulton said. “We need to be sure we’re helping other people get to the polls. That we’re supporting early voting.” She added, “We just have to be very vigilant and very aggressive.”

Fulton encouraged Floridians to make a plan to vote. If you’re in Florida, you can take a second now to make your plan to vote.

Eighty-one percent of the women on the call Wednesday night said they’ve already voted early or planned to vote early. The call also offered women the opportunity to sign up to volunteer in getting out the vote across the Sunshine State

Faced with mounting attacks on everything from jobs and a minimum wage to expanding Medicaid, from retirement security to the right to vote, Florida women and all Florida voters are faced with a choice at the polls. Issues like improving public education and health care, preventing gun violence, and making higher education more affordable, are on the table this election.

“Each of us must decide what part we will play in this moment,” AFSCME Pres. Jeanette Wynn said. “Will we let the anti-worker, anti-union, anti-poor, anti-people forces continue to accumulate more power and influence over our political system and even more of our nation’s wealth? Or will we stand together and raise our collective voices in support of the values we hold dear?”

Joining Fulton and Wynn on the call were Monica Russo, president, SEIU Florida State Council, and Marίa Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

“It’s critical for us as women as leaders in our households, communities churches to make our vote plan and help our friends and our neighbors make their vote plan,” Russo said. “In 2010, our communities did not vote. Our vote really matters.” 

They Want Us to Stay Home on Nov. 4

by AFSCME President Lee Saunders  |  October 22, 2014

In recent weeks, a series of court rulings blocked implementation of discriminatory voter identification laws in Wisconsin, Arkansas and Texas. But on Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a lower court and allowed Texas to move ahead in what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called "a major step backward to let stand a law...designed to discriminate."

Please read my latest entry on the Huffington Post here.

President Saunders Honored as “Progressive Champion”

by Clyde Weiss  |  October 21, 2014

President Saunders Honored as “Progressive Champion” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders speaks with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Accepting the Campaign for America’s Future’s Progressive Champion Award, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders promised that our union will “fight like hell every single day” for working families, and to get out the vote on Nov. 4 to prevent a “nightmare” if anti-worker candidates prevail at the polls.

It’s up to unions and progressive organizations like the Campaign for America’s Future to “knock on those doors, make those phone calls, convince folks that it’s important to have their voices heard on Nov. 4,” Saunders said. “Governors across the country are trying to steal our voices, take collective bargaining away from public sector workers. Our members are energized and they’re fighting back.”

President Saunders accepted the award on behalf of AFSCME’s 1.6 million members, “because they’re the everyday heroes who really work behind the scenes to keep public services running.”

Lily Eskelsen García, the newly elected president of the National Education Association (NEA), presented the award to President Saunders, noting that both the NEA and AFSCME represent millions of hard-working Americans who contribute to the national economy.

“We stand between a profiteer and his profits,” she said. “It’s a dangerous place to stand. I have seen Lee stand there with courage and conviction.”

Also honored with Progressive Champion Awards were New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio andSaru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

In his acceptance remarks, Mayor de Blasio said that he and other progressive leaders like President Saunders and Jayaraman “put forward a vision of what progressive change looked like” that is now spreading nationwide. “I’ve seen mayors, in particular, all of this country moving on paid sick leave, moving on higher wages and benefits, moving on early childhood education” because “we have to respond to people suffering.”

Watch President Saunders deliver his acceptance speech here.

Stopping A ‘Wisconsin Moment’ in Connecticut

by Michael Byrne  |  October 21, 2014

Stopping A ‘Wisconsin Moment’ in Connecticut AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders (far right) leans in to talk with AFSCME members coming in for a shift change at the Bridgeport, Conn., water treatment plant.

“How ya’ll doing?” AFSCME President Lee Saunders asked as he  walked into the Bridgeport, Conn., water treatment plant garage where workers were coming in on a shift change.

Saunders was there to talk to members about “the most important election in your lifetime.” Earlier, at the other end of the city, he met with four groups of lunching state social service case workers and clericals from Council 4 bargaining units totaling more than 1,100 members, discussing the danger to their jobs and bargaining rights if they allowed a rich extremist to deliver on his promise to bring a “Wisconsin moment” to Connecticut.

“You know what a ‘Wisconsin Moment’ means?” he asked a group of West Haven, Conn., municipal and board of education workers later that day. “It means we are stripped of our voice and our rights. That’s what [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Tom Foley wants to deliver here in Connecticut.” Foley is running against incumbent Dan Malloy. Nodding in agreement was West Haven Mayor Ed O’Brien, the son of a former West Haven police officer and member of AFSCME Council 15, who was on hand to thank the municipal employees and their union for working with him to reach a fair collective bargaining agreement.

It was the public safety officers of AFSCME Council 15 and their affiliate, AFSCME Local 724, who sponsored the raucous rally in New London the day before. Surrounded by labor leaders, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio of New London declared that his city was a “union town,” a fact on display all along a downtown intersection – signs from AFSCME, the UAW, Fire Fighters, Iron Workers, Carpenters, SEIU, the Teamsters, American Federation of Teachers and the Amalgamated Transit Union, among others.

Saunders looked out upon the horde of labor supporters and declared, “The rights we have didn’t fall from the sky. We got them because we fought for them! And we have to fight to keep them.”

At every stop, Saunders reminded workers that they have the power. This election is in our hands. If we turn out the vote of people who share our values, who want to preserve the middle class, who care about quality public services, then we will win. “Bad things happen when good people stay away from the polls,” he said.

At the water treatment plant in Bridgeport, where the workers had struggled for several years to finally win a good contract with an English company trying to maximize its profit at the city’s water waste treatment facility, Saunders was blunt.

“Whether we keep our rights and our jobs comes down to whether we have political leaders who care about us and our jobs,” he said. “We know that with Tom Foley, we may be cut out entirely – just like we were in Wisconsin. We can’t afford to allow that to happen in Connecticut. We have to talk to our friends, our families, people we know care about working families. Those one-on-one conversations will make the difference.”

The next day, Saunders helped kick off a “Labor Walk” at the Teachers’ union hall in Meriden, Conn. , sponsored by the AFL-CIO. Then, after the whirlwind tour to rally the troops in Connecticut, Saunders was off to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and other states where labor may tip the balance. Three weeks to go, so much work to do. As he told Council 4 members at every stop, “We’ve got to be prepared to work this election as if the future truly depends on it. Because, sisters and brothers, it does.”

AFSCME Stands with Wal-Mart Workers Who Demand a Living Wage

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  October 21, 2014

AFSCME Stands with Wal-Mart Workers Who Demand a Living Wage Wal-Mart workers and their allies, including AFSCME, rallied in Washington, D.C., demanding $15 an hour and full-time hours.

With $473 billion in worldwide sales just last year, you would think that Wal-Mart could pony up a living wage to its employees. But its 1.3 million employees in the United States are scraping by on poverty wages with no benefits and irregular hours, even as the six members of the Walton family are worth $145 billion from Wal-Mart profits. 

That’s why Wal-Mart workers and their allies, including AFSCME, marched to the offices of the Walton Family Foundation in New York City and Washington, D.C., Oct. 16. They had a simple request for the Walton family: $15 an hour and full-time hours.

“We must send the message that we refuse to live in a low-wage part-time economy driven by the Waltons’ profits,” D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton told the crowd.

Marchers shut down traffic in front of the offices, but the foundation refused to meet and hear their demands. The Walton Family Foundation is an organization established to create the appearance that the Wal-Mart founders are charitable with their wealth. But Forbes magazine describes the charity as a form of tax dodge. It spends most of its money on education “reform” designed to replace our schools and teachers with corporate charters.

Wal-Mart’s wealthy bosses could do a whole lot more if they chose to share the company’s profits with the people who work to make it happen. Those workers desperately need a living wage and stable schedules that allow them to spend time with their families. 

Unfortunately, Wal-Mart’s inhumane employment practices set the pattern for other employers. That’s why unions are working to change Wal-Mart, to help working families.

Walker: Minimum Wage Serves No Purpose

by Dave Kreisman  |  October 16, 2014

Walker: Minimum Wage Serves No Purpose “Well, I’m not going to repeal it, but I don’t think it serves a purpose,” Gov. Scott Walker said of the minimum wage during a meeting with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial board.

MADISON, Wis. – After avoiding the question in his first debate with Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, Gov. Scott Walker finally offered an answer during a live broadcast of his sit-down with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“What is your position on the minimum wage?” asked columnist Dan Bice. “Should we have it?”

“Well, I’m not going to repeal it, but I don’t think it serves a purpose,” Walker responded.

While the facts paint a clear picture that raising the minimum wage would boost earnings for 16 million people and bring 900,000 Americans out of poverty, Walker once again stands against middle-class values and on the wrong side of history.

According to a poll conducted by the Marquette University Law School, 59 percent of Wisconsinites support increasing the minimum wage.

Walker’s latest flub comes only days after his first debate with challenger Mary Burke during which, when asked about Wisconsin’s lack of job growth compared to the rest of the Midwest, Walker responded that the state “doesn’t have a jobs problem, we have a work problem.”

Agree to disagree, Governor.  You might think sitting last in the Midwest for job growth is acceptable, but to the people of Wisconsin, last in the Midwest and 35th in the nation isn’t cutting it.

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